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    Review: Transistor Bass subtractive synthesizer by Image Line


    Image Line has entered the world of acid house music with Transistor Bass, an emulation plugin of the famous Roland TB-303™ electronic synthesizer-sequencer.

    Transistor Bass is subtractive synthesizer modeled after the hardware, but also enhances its concept with a number of new features, as well as a guitar distortion, FX modules and an up-to-date sequencer for creating/editing bassline patterns.

    When it was released a few days ago, Transistor Bass sparked some controversy, especially with the TB-303 who allegedly was on the verge of being sacrificed on the altar of creation. Image Line said that it is no longer useful, now when the plugin is ready, and invited the fans to decide its fate – all kinds of tortures that have horrified the purists. One (my favorite) involved cutting in half the hardware. The ending was a happy one, instead of “dying”, the Roland TB-303™ will get a new owner which will be selected from those who will buy the plugin.

    More precisely, if you buy Transistor Bass before December 1st, you are entered in the drawing to win the original TB-303 and the clone used as “stuntman”… (click the image to see how it got “modded”)…

    Transistor Bass is a handsome plugin, with 4 skins: black, blue, black-blue and acid (a bold yellow color, which to be honest, is my favorite). What’s cool is one thing that I’ve found on other plugins too, especially in the premium zone, namely you can assign to a preset a preferred skin. The skins can be selected from top right.

    The silver knobs are designed in the style of those found on TB-303, also the fonts and color scheme integrate seamlessly into FL Studio. Since I’ve reached this point, I must say that for now, Transistor Bass is available only as FL plugin – maybe in the near future will be offered as VST and Standalone. And I think this will happen, because there are already signs that Transistor is a success, and the next logical move would be to port it over other platforms.

    Back to the GUI, on right top of it there are 4 icons letting you show/hide different modules of the plugin. Staying on the right side, just below you’ll find a button with an arrow pointing down. It allows to choose between initial plugin controls and step sequencer.


    The main panel
    The main panel

    First unit just below the header is the main panel of Transistor Bass, with presets selector and various controls. The plugin comes with 128 “Programs”; each program has assigned a keyboard note, and is a combo of “Patch” and “Sequence” (where “Patch” is the sound resulting from all applied settings, and “Sequence” is a melody/pattern that plays when the Sequencer is activated). You can “shuffle” through the programs, either by manually selecting them or by pressing the MIDI controller keys (turn on AF “Auto Follow”). Keep in mind that the 128 sequences can be used with any of the programs. Also, they can be set from 1 to 16 steps.

    Moving on to the next row, we find the “Tuning” knob with an octaves range between -1 to +1, the switch between square and sawtooth waveforms, and filter cutoff frequency and resonance. Follow a basic attack/decay envelope modulator and a knob which sets the filter envelope decay time. Last in line are “Accent” which sets the note accent amount and “Volume” – selector for the output level. Accents are momentary increases of filter cutoff & resonance and wave volume. They can be inserted in the sequence either using the internal sequencer of Transistor Bass or in FL Studio’s piano roll, in velocity control (any note with a velocity greater than 100/86% triggers an accent).


    Tweaks & effects section
    Tweaks & effects section

    In this chapter I will take a close look at the tweaks and effects panel, the engine of Transistor Bass. I’ll jump straight into “Tweaks” – the place where you can define how the oscillator behaves. It has a knob for frequency of the high-pass filter, “Min Decay” which has a direct influence on accented notes, LFO rate control, and a “LFO -> PW” knob (determines how much the LFO influences the Pulse Width).

    Transistor Bass has three effect processors: a distortion, delay and a reverb module. The distortion (simulation of the Pro Co Rat pedal used by the legendary German acid techno duo “Hardfloor”) was placed as a result of the fact that at the original TB303™ were often attached guitar pedals, to add distortion on acid sound. It has typical controls such as drive, tone and output volume. “Delay” is like a regular delay unit (with amount, time, feedback, stereo width and BPM syncronization), but also sports a delay tone shaper filtering low or high frequencies. “Reverb” is based on the highly-acclaimed FL Reeverb 2 (its exact parameters) with the addition of a “Predelay Feedback”. All effects have on/off switch.

    The tweaks module paired with these three high quality effect units take the acid bass into a new dimension of sound design. I don’t think I’m wrong when I say that is a natural evolution of the original hardware instrument.


    The sequencer
    The sequencer

    Transistor Bass can be used in two ways: with the sequencer or directly in FL Studio’s piano roll. The sequencer is fun to use and it offers that “actual programming” feeling, that those who had the chance to get their hands on a real drum machine or sequencer hardware will surely appreciate.

    To open the sequencer, just click the little arrow near “Octave” row. Starting form left to right, there are on/off LED, play/pause button, “Transpose” selector which shows the current setting, sequence length/steps selector (up to 16 steps), BPM selector that can be synced to host or set internally, and “Shuffle”, a parameter similar to a swing – it “humanize” the sequence depending on the value you select. The transpose selector works in tandem with the MIDI color 13 from FL Studio piano roll, having its default at C5 (MIDI note 60).

    Below the sequence editor we see four rows. First indicates the current octave of the note above and lets you choose the octave range of the note. Next are “Gate”, which applies a gate effect and “Slide” – it extends (slides) the selected note until the next note in the sequence. The last row is “Accent”; an accent which, you already know, is a momentary increase of filter cutoff & resonance and wave volume. An accent can be more and less present, depending on the amount you set from the “Accent” rotary knob in the main panel. The sequencer has also “Octave” controls, which allow you to increase/decrease the octave of all notes (+/- by 1).

    Another way to create a sequence is by using piano roll. First deselect the sequencer within Transistor Bass. Create the bass line as you usually do with any instrument plugin. Here is how to create different effects: portamento can be achieved simply by overlapping notes (extend its length just enough to overlap the next note), accents by increasing the velocity of a note above 86%. Slides can also be triggered with the reqular slider of piano roll.

    To transpose a sequence to another pitch in piano roll (in this case the sequencer LED will be turned on), you will have to use the MIDI channel 13 (click on the green color from piano roll and select orange 13). Note C5 will be the original pitch; while playing the sequence, the transpose selector from Transistor Bass will indicate the current semitone. Of course, this is also an easy way to play the sequence melody with any MIDI keyboard that allows to send note information on separate MIDI channels.


    Transistor Bass is now available at an introductory price of just $49 instead of $79. The offer ends on December 1st, 2016. If you ask me, yes I would definitely recommend it to all FL Studio users looking to extend their DAW’s capabilities. It is useless to say that for lovers of acid house, this plugin is more than perfect. A perfect emulation of the beloved instrument that defined an era in electronic music.

    Although many would think that Transistor Bass is just made for acid house, it is as universal as any other square & sawtooth bass. Simply disable the sequencer, make your own tweaks and see by yourself that can be used in any other electronic dance music style.

    Get Transistor Bass now at Image Line and enter for a chance to win a real Roland TB-303™ and a Cyclone TT-303 clone. For the moment it is available only as FL plugin (extension) which means it can be used only inside of FL Studio. A demo version of it is expected to be included with FL Studio version 12.4 which will be launched these days.

    More info:

    Transistor Bass by Image Line

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